Saturday, April 15, 2017

Steve Ditko at Charlton: 1969-1971

Much has been written about Steve Ditko's work in the years since he began drawing comic books over six decades ago. His co-creation of Spider-Man alone would assure him a place in the history of comic art, but the artist’s prolific output includes a wide range of accomplishments. A few are particularly worth noting, starting with his mid-1960's horror stories for Warren Magazines (Creepy and Eerie), where Ditko exhibited an uncanny skill with the tools of his trade, crafting stories devoid of color, utilizing pen, ink, crayon, shading, grey-tones and wash to stunning effect. For DC comics he conceived imaginative heroes such as The Creeper, Hawk and the Dove and Shade, The Changing Man. In his independent work Ditko created countless characters emphasizing his belief in justice and objectivity, the most famous being Mr. A
The ornately drawn "Cinderella" (The Thing #12, February 1954) was Ditko's first published Charlton story, inaugurating a run of horror/suspense tales by the artist that spanned over thirty years (1954-1985). 

Ditko had a long association with Charlton Press dating back to his earliest days in comics. Beginning in late 1953 Ditko was given assignments that focused on the horror/fantasy/sci-fi genre (The Thing, This Magazine is Haunted, Tales of the Mysterious Traveler, Space Adventures, Space War, Out of This World), with occasional forays into western, war and humor. By the early 1960s Ditko illustrated his first superhero, "Captain Atom," created by Joe Gill and designed by Ditko.

Gorgo # 11 was on newsstands the same month that Amazing Spider-Man # 1 debuted (Both cover-dated March 1963; although they were distributed in December 1962). Ditko drew the majority of Gorgo and Konga stories in 1963 (two monster titles based on movies) but when Amazing Spider-Man was promoted to monthly status something had to give; his Charlton page count was the unfortunate victim.         

The ever-industrious Ditko plotted and penciled stories for Stan Lee every month while juggling his Charlton assignments. In 1963 Ditko drew Gorgo #'s 11 and 13-16; Konga #'s 10-15; Konga's Revenge # 2 and The Return of Gorgo # 2; one title, Return of Gorgo # 3, was squeezed into his hectic 1964 schedule. During the latter part of 1965, while completing his final Spider-Man and "Dr. Strange" stories, Ditko began working on a revival of Captain Atom in Strange Suspense Stories. Ditko expanded his Charlton repertoire after leaving Marvel, revamping an old hero, The Blue Beetle, and creating "the Question," a character very much modeled after his own Mr. A. 
Coinciding with Amazing Spider-Man # 32, Captain Atom returned to Charlton in his own title. The new stories were produced by the original team of Gill and Ditko, and the artist was heralded on the splash page, alongside inker Rocco Mastroserio and letterer Jon D'Agostino, echoing Stan Lee's lighthearted credits at Marvel. Although no one knew it at the time, the writing was on the wall; in a few months Ditko would leave Marvel. Captain Atom # 78, December 1965.    

Given Ditko's previous experience it was only logical for the artist to be assigned work on a new title, Ghostly Tales, when Charlton returned to the supernatural-anthology format. Satisfied by sales, Ghostly Tales was followed a year later by The Many Ghosts of Doctor Graves. Ditko soon began inking his pencils regularly and became a steady contributor to Charlton's growing line of thrillers, churning out several stories a month. 
Ditko was given the lead story to illustrate when Ghostly Tales premiered; the first issue being # 55, May 1966. A word about Charlton's convoluted numbering system for those interested in minutiae (and if you're reading this blog you should be!). In order to circumvent postal fees incurred when starting a new publication Charlton often continued numbering from a defunct comic book (in this case The Blue Beetle). I suppose it worked! "Great Caesar's Ghost," effective inks by the talented Rocco "Rocke" Mastroserio (who inked all of Ditko's GT stories up to issue # 67), lettering by Jon D'Agostino.    

Only cursory attention is paid to Ditko's fascinating and largely impressive   Charlton stories from the mid-1960s through the early 1970s, perhaps because fans and aficionados have generally trended towards superheroes at the expense of genre material. Moreover, there are those who disparage Charlton as a bottom of the barrel operation that produced little of worth. My contention is that Charlton was not competing for either the DC or Marvel audience but instead tailored their comics to a younger demographic. As a result of this, their writers, artists and editors were largely unrestrained by a corporate mandate. Left to their own devices creators played with the canvas supplied to them; this freewheeling approach could sometimes engender surprisingly good results.  

In this two-part post I'll concentrate on a specific six year period (1969-1974), when Ditko's mainstream work appeared exclusively at Charlton (the last two issues of DC's Beware, The Creeper, while cover-dated 1969, were actually on sale in 1968. Comic books were almost always dated two to three months ahead of publication). With the exception of assisting Wally Wood on Heroes Inc. presents Cannon (inking the title character in a comic sold exclusively to soldiers through PX's), Ditko concentrated on writing and drawing his self-owned creations, the majority of which appeared in low-circulation fanzines. 

Ditko illustrated a dazzling array of short stories for Charlton, many scripted by Joe Gill, the company's head writer. The pay may have been low but assignments were steady, and, more importantly, Ditko was allowed to control the finished pages with little editorial interference, enlivened by the freedom to experiment with design, pacing and storytelling.

Ditko's tribute to writer Joe Gill and Captain Atom, from Steve Ditko's 160 Page Package, 1999. Illustration copyright Steve Ditko. 

Detailed below are a selection of stories Ditko drew for Charlton circa 1969-1971 showcasing some of his most accomplished - and overlooked - artistic efforts. Perhaps the evidence I've accumulated in this and the following post might persuade some of the hard-liners among you to reconsider a period in Ditko's career that is often either maligned or greeted with apathy. 

** Unless otherwise noted most stories are believed to be written by Joe Gill. 

GHOSTLY TALES: Ditko got off to a strong start in Ghostly Tales # 71 (January) with "The Eternal Oak," a tale about an American Indian murdered for a crime he did not commit. The title’s host was Mr. L. Dedd, a pale-skinned, red headed, caped figure who narrated and commented on each story. In the 1950s EC Comics was noted for their wise-cracking hosts and countless other companies (including Charlton) followed their lead. The idea was copied from radio programs of the 1930s and 40s such as “The Witch’s Tale,” "Inner Sanctum" and “Light’s Out.” Ditko was one of the few artists (Bob Powell comes to mind as a predecessor) who not only used the characters to open and close each story, but incorporated them in-between panels, often in pantomime, with a mixture of dramatic and amusing expressions and body language. Ditko first employed this method at Charlton in the 1950s with their earlier horror fare, in titles This Magazine is Haunted and Tales of the Mysterious Traveler (which was in itself an adaptation of a radio program, hosted by - who else? - The Mysterious Traveler).

(An aside for those of you who missed my earlier posts on Ghostly Tales -  and are too lazy to look them up - this comic was my reintroduction to Ditko's work, discovered while I was waiting for a haircut. Although unsigned, I was keenly aware that this was the same artist whose unforgettable images and storytelling brought Spider-Man and Dr. Strange to life).  
Ditko's cinematic approach to storytelling and expertise in mastering movement on a comics page is enunciated in "The Eternal Oak." The first three frames in particular position the drama from different angles. The placement of the figures in panel one, an overhead shot in panel two and the wooden splinters and hat in panel three (solving the problem of actually showing a mangled body, since the Comics Code would not have allowed it) exemplify those points.  

"Loser's Weepers" (GT #73, May) is memorable for Ditko's use of humor in a tale focusing on a hen-pecked husband. The splash page breaks with tradition as the lead character interacts with Mr. Dedd. 
"Rydan's Folly" (GT #76, November) involves a ghost who seeks to make up for past crimes; like a great cinematographer Ditko uses varied angles, dramatic expressions, shading and close-ups to evoke suspense.   

THE MANY GHOSTS OF DR.GRAVES: The character of Dr. M. T. Graves, an investigator of occult phenomenon, began as a short feature in Ghostly Tales # 55, May 1966. A year later he graduated to host his own comic and from time to time played a starring role in stories. One of his most interesting tales was "The Ultimate Evil," where Graves battles an other-dimensional menace to mankind (# 11, February, scripted by Steve Skeates). There are many parallels to Dr. Strange in this story, and author Skeates makes it obvious in the Greenwich Village and astral plane references (Skeates wrote the script for DC’s supernatural hero, The Spectre, but refashioned it when the comic was cancelled). 

Ditko was perfectly cast to draw "The Ultimate Evil"; Dr. Graves is revealed to possess mystical abilities, leaves his physical body and floats through space in spirit form and combats his foe with spells, employing hand gestures reminiscent of Dr. Strange. One three-page sequence has Graves walking through a void of white space, a visual device that would surface three decades later in the 1999 science fiction film The Matrix. The Producers, not surprisingly, are confessed comic book fans. 

"Return to Trilby Shoals" (MGODG #16, October) concerns the tribulations of a man and woman trapped at sea by a ghostly menace. Ditko's manipulation of swirling fog and shading evoke an aura of tension. The same issue featured "The Hanged Man" depicting a war criminal who pays for his past atrocities. Once again, Ditko experiments with inventive panels, such as reflecting a hangman's noose in the killer’s eye. 

SPACE ADVENTURES: In addition to his efforts in the mystery-suspense realm, Ditko dabbled in a few other genres, including three stories for the revived Space Adventures, a title he contributed to fourteen years earlier. 

"Magnet of Magento" (SA #5, January) takes place on earth's future as the planet is threatened by an alien invasion. While the story was standard fare, Ditko's use of varied vertical and horizontal panels within a consistent six panel grid created a lively visual flow. 

"Planet X" (SA #6, March) gave Ditko an opportunity to illustrate a hero in the vein of Flash Gordon, a character he drew only once for Western Publishing/Gold Key. When the company closed its doors the story languished and, due to rights' issues, only a page or two have appeared in Robin Snyder's newsletter, The Comics.

Unlike contemporaries Gene Colan and Neal Adams, Ditko rarely used oddly slanted panels as a storytelling device.  "It's a Small World" (SA #8, July) is an exception, perhaps an attempt by the artist to experiment with this style. Ditko shows his command of comic book language, succeeding in making what could be a confusing page actually work. 

JUNGLE JIM: These stories were originally produced for King Comics. When they went out of business Charlton acquired the material. 

A dynamic page from "The Wizard of Dark Mountain" (Jungle Jim # 22, February). Ditko was part of a team who collaborated on the art for this story. Bhob Stewart provided layouts; Ditko completed the pencils and Wally Wood, with help from his assistants, did the inking (evident in some of the less accomplished brushwork). The finished product is quite attractive - despite the numerous hands involved. Script by Bhob Stewart (from an idea by Wood); lettering by Bill Yoshida. 


While there was a five-issue gap between the last Ditko-drawn Jungle Jim story, with material written and drawn by Charlton regulars, it appears that issue # 27 was part of the King material. "The Witch Doctor of Borges Island" is one of three Jungle Jim tales penciled by Ditko and possibly scripted by Bhob Stewart. Giant reptiles, scientists, talking tigers, winged men and inking (with assistance) by the great Wally Wood, is, at the very least, worth a look.

Time for Love (#13, November) "Surfing, Fishing and Kissing." Ditko's earliest published comic book work appeared in Daring Love # 1, dated September-October 1953. Sixteen years later he returned to the genre, illustrating a seven page story for one of Charlton's numerous romance comics. While the overall presentation, particularly of the young couple, is rigid, Ditko manages to enliven a few panels with movement and emotion, including the sand dune setting and his foreground framing of a father's stoic features.    
GHOST MANOR: #13 (July) was the first issue Ditko contributed to, which coincided with the introduction of a new hostess, Winnie the Witch. The first twelve issues of Ghost Manor featured an undistinguished narrator, "The Old Witch," whose traditional hag-like appearance didn't seem to attract sales. Winnie, whose mod, sexy design (blue-skin, long black hair, shades, a purple cape and a white mini-skirt) contrasted with the reserved or sinister hosts populating Charlton’s other titles. The character proved to be an attractive draw and remained a popular favorite for many years. 
An excellent cover (#15, November) and interior artwork on two stories display Ditko's command of his craft. Special notice should be give to the three silent panels featuring Winnie. These were almost certainly additions that were not in Joe Gill's script. At Charlton Ditko had the ability to compose a page in any manner. Neither the writer nor the editors cared, a situation that wasn't true elsewhere. Ditko's flair for drawing the winsome witch is evident in the illustrations above. "An Ancient Glory," lettering by Charlotte Jetter.

GHOSTLY TALES: "Which Witch" (#79, April) switches between the 17th century and the present as a young woman seeks retribution for an ancestor accused of witchcraft. The use of scenery, costumes and backgrounds (including houses and cobblestone streets) show an accomplished artist at work. The cat is another "character" that often appears in Ditko drawn stories and a creature he appears to have an affinity for; perhaps due to a feline's independent nature.  

"The Treasure of the Swamp" (GT #80, June) is the story of a Geologist and his seemingly simple-minded guide searching for oil in the swamps. Ditko brings the surroundings to life with his rendering of rotted trees, overflowing vines and sinister-looking reptiles. 

"The Third Grave" (#81, August) is a chronicle of suspicion, distrust and violence between three unsavory businessmen in the early 20th century. A well-crafted story, Ditko defines the players with his superior use of facial expressions and hand gestures.

"The Work of Genius" (#83, December) transports the reader to 19th Century England (a popular locale for writer Joe Gill) as a hack artist uses an apprentice to paint portraits he is commissioned to do. Ditko's depiction of a sadistic character is skillful, and the put-upon but noble artist, shown sketching throughout the story, is indicative of Ditko's own drawing process.  
THE MANY GHOSTS OF DR. GRAVES: One of Ditko's most accomplished jobs is "An Ancient Wrong" (#20, June), the story of an obsessed Lord who seeks out the Goddess of Love. Ditko’s layouts, intricate inking and experimental techniques are on display in every panel of the eight-page tale. Ditko uses pen and brush with great flourish, adding solidity to the statues while flawlessly alternating with a wispy line on streets and buildings. His placement of Dr. Graves within the story as a "bridge" between panels (see the above example) and incorporated into backgrounds is another creative knockout punch. 

"The Lost Dutchman's Mine" (#21, August) takes place in the west; a tale of greed and gold punctuated by a Native American curse. Ditko was going at full speed in this period. He continues to use Dr. Graves in-between panels, alongside characters such as the man laughing in the foreground (panel four) which are indicative of his virtuoso page compositions.  

"Verdict from the Grave" (DG #22, October) takes place in a Balkan village, as a beautiful young woman and her great-grandmother, accused of witchcraft decades ago, return to clear her name. As he had done with Aunt May in Spider-Man, Ditko's elderly characters evoked authenticity with their wrinkled faces and hunched forms. Ditko's use of six silent panels throughout the story played out in an almost Haiku-like pantomime. The artists ornate pencils, evocative inks and sheer command of the form make this one of the genres better entries. 

 JUNGLE JIM/PHANTOM: Ditko penciled three back-up stories that did not feature the title characters.

"Big Man With a Gun" (Jungle Jim #28, February) tells the story of a conceited hunter receiving his comeuppance. Ditko provides a solid, though workmanlike effort. 

"The Promise of Akra Shi" (Phantom #36, February) is a more energetic Ditko entry, with the artist again playing with unusual layouts in a story involving an American Geologist on the run from Egyptians. 

"Peace Brother" (Phantom #39, August) takes place in Africa, as a Peace Corp officer assists villagers whose land is being pillaged. The Africans are portrayed as heroic and resourceful, and though devoid of messages, the images of individuals working together in turbulent times set a positive tone. Ditko came through with a solid job,  focusing on the character's expressions and settings.

WAR AND WESTERNS: In 1970 Ditko was assigned several stories in genres he only briefly worked on in the past. His two earlier combat tales were "Gavin's Stupid Mule" for Charlton (Fightin' Army # 20, May 1957); and "The Hidden Doom!" for Atlas (Battle # 63, April 1959). In addition, Ditko inked two Jack Kirby tales with breathtaking finesse (Battle #'s 68 and 70, February and June 1960) and equally impressive finishes over Dick Ayers pencils in Sgt. Fury # 15 (February 1965). Ditko's western output had a bit more depth, including one of his earliest stories, “Range War" for the short-lived publisher Timor (Blazing Western # 1, January 1954); “The Badmen,” his first story with Stan Lee (2 Gun Western # 4, May 1956); the cover to Cheyenne Kid # 10 (December, 1957); “Help Wanted” (Outlaws of the West # 18, January 1959) and inking a handful of Jack Kirby Atlas western covers in 1960.

                  "Pied Piper of St. Pierre," Fightin' Army # 89, January 1970.

"The Goat on the Mountain," Fightin' Army # 90, March 1970.

"Not The Hero Type," Fightin' Army # 92, July 1970.

Ditko drew three stories for Charlton's long-running title, Fightin' Army (#'s 89-90 and 92). Ditko didn't attempt to draw detailed weaponry or realistic uniforms such as that which John Severin or Russ Heath specialized in; instead he concentrated on what he did best - a flair for characterization, emotions and solid storytelling.  

            "Catlin's Last Ride," Outlaws of the West # 80, March 1970.

                  "Bonanza," Outlaws of the West # 81, May 1970.

           "Enemy Ground," Texas Rangers in Action # 77, April 1970.

Ditko saddled up to pencil a trio of stories set in the wild west. He seemed more confident portraying tales of cowboys, and once again his faces and personalities were exceptional. While there is no flashiness or experimentation in his war and western short stories, Ditko continued to dip into his bag of tricks, including a silent panel in "Enemy Ground."    

ROMANTIC STORY: (# 107, June). Ditko drew another one-shot tale of love in 1970. "Nothing But Tears" focuses on a young woman leaving her peaceful country life as she struggles to survive alone in a big city. Ditko's efforts here are stronger than his last outing, perhaps because he was working on a more interesting plot.   

GHOSTLY TALES: Ditko’s stunning cover to #84 (February) employs an excellent use of lighting and is graced by distinctive coloring. 

The accompanying story, "Luka's Evil Eye," tells the tale of a Gypsy who terrorizes the authorities with a supernatural eye acquired in a pact with the devil. Costumes, scenery, attention to detail and use of the host are standouts. 
"The Ninth Life" (#85, April) breaks from tradition as the host, Mr. Dedd, is absent from the proceedings. In this story a despondent man takes in an alley cat who turns out to be a witch. Granting his wish to live in the past she transports him to other eras, where he discovers there is no idyllic period (a plot similar to Director Frank Capra's 1946 movie, It's a Wonderful Life). Ditko was inspired by the script and enhanced the story by incorporating symbolic silent panels that echoed his philosophical independent work. 

Ditko's second story in issue # 85, "Hide and Eeeeek," is worth noting as an oddity. For the first (and I believe only time) Mr. Dedd does double-duty, narrating AND taking human form as a protagonist.

"Someone Else is Here" (#86, June) serves up a tale of newlyweds who take over an estate; the wife hates the husband, but a female ghost adds a twist. Expressive faces, an attractive woman and Mr. Dedd's pantomime expressions enliven this romantic tale.

"Dig this Crazy Pad" (#88) is another non-traditional story due to the lack of a real menace. Hippies occupy a cottage that harbor non-threatening husband and wife spirits. Ditko does his usual attractive job, adding a humorous bent to the ghosts and satirizing the young misanthropes. 

  I could add a lot of sight gags when writing about "The Fatal Error" (#89, October), but I'm much too sophisticated for that! The sinister Mr. Eye is an entertainer who uses his beautiful assistant to swindle a man and steal his wealth. Ditko excelled in designing weird characters, and Mr. Eye fits that category perfectly. The image of Mr. Eye in panel two reminds me of characters originated by artist Gilbert Hernandez, of Love and Rockets fame. Not surprising, since both he and brother Jamie have acknowledged Ditko's influence on their work.

THE MANY GHOSTS OF DR. GRAVES: "The 5.99 Special" (#24, February) involves a beautiful gypsy fortune teller and a cop. Ditko's compelling page design draws the eye in: Dr. Graves, the omniscient host, observes the proceedings within swirling globules (echoing the crystal ball motif). 

"The Pharaoh Will Rule Again" (#27, August), takes us back 4,000 years, as an evil Pharaoh is sentenced to death; in the present an archaeologist confronts danger from the past. The swirling desert winds and Egyptian setting are thoughtfully rendered by Ditko.

Issue #28 (October) has no interior Ditko stories, but the cover of Dr. Graves holding an ancient parchment is well worth the price of admission. 

GHOST MANOR: As noted earlier, here is another Charlton title with an unusual numbering sequence. Ghost Manor ended its first run with #19 (July), and was then relaunched with a first issue and a new host. The original host (Winnie the Witch) continued - along with Ghost Manor's numbering - in Ghostly Haunts the following year (Got that? Now explain it to ME!). The last issue ended on a high note with "What She See's in Him!?" as the voluptuous Winnie presides over a tale involving a nerdy guy who uses a potion on a beautiful woman to gain her love. Ditko illustrates the tale with a lighthearted touch and plenty of gusto.

The new #1 (October), introduces Mr. Bones, the supernatural butler of Ghost Manor. "The Shadow of the Cross" is Ditko's first attempt at the character, who was designed by Pat Boyette. The artist's playful side is manifested in several panels where Charlton's other hosts (Mr. Dedd, Impy and Winnie) have cameo appearances, including the long unemployed Dr. Haunt (last seen and drawn by Ditko in This Magazine is Haunted way back in 1958). 

In "It Will Roam Tonight" (GM #2,December) the tale begins as a timid man in a small Midwestern community is ostracized by the residents. He seeks revenge on his tormentors, which is manifested in a creature that he possesses. Ditko again shows his superiority in conveying emotions, with a particularly strong image of the man's face bathed in raw, naked hatred. 

Haunted # 1, September 1971

"Revenge of the Slave Ghost!"
   "The Room of Madness!" 
   "It's About Tyme." Three Ditko extravaganzas from Haunted # 1, September 1971.

HAUNTED: The ghost books were clearly selling briskly for Charlton, so they decided to come up with a new one, this time showcasing Ditko's art in the entire book (as Stan Lee had done in Amazing Adult Fantasy a decade earlier). A diminutive ghost, "Impy," was introduced and Ditko drew three tales of revenge, murder and the supernatural. The best of the three, "It's About Tyme" involves an ESP researcher whose female assistant is apparently murdered, and the young man (secretly in love with her) who is framed for her death. The protagonist, overweight, wearing glasses and adorned with curly hair, is not your typical leading man. Unfortunately, after the first issue the title would no longer be a solo Ditko attraction.

                        "Night Without Tears," I Love You # 91, May.

                    "Dream of Love," Just Married # 79, September. 

ROMANCE: In 1971 Ditko drew two entries in Charlton's prolific line of love and heartache. While the storytelling is competent, Ditko struggles to grab a foothold on weakly written material, as seen by his overuse of the heart motif in "Dream of Love." These stories, by far, were his least impressive work of the year. When Ditko was given an interesting script, though, he would always rise to the occasion. His best presentation of romantic plots, however, would take place in the more familiar mystery environs.

The conclusion of my comprehensive journey into the shadowed corridors and cobwebbed halls of Steve Ditko's contributions to Charlton comics take us to the years 1972-74. I invite you to join me on an excursion into the unknown, coming soon to a PC, laptop or other technological marvel near you... 

This post originally appeared in Comic Book Marketplace # 84, August 2001, and is thoroughly revised, expanded and updated here.   


Kid said...

Another cracking post, Nick, you must've spent ages on it. The 'Gorgo's Triumph' splash demonstrates just how necessary a good letterer is to the finished result, because the typeset lettering on that page doesn't do it any favours at all.

Looking forward to your next post already. (You can have a five-minute rest first 'though.)

Nick Caputo said...

Hi Kid,

Putting this one together took quite a while, so I appreciate that five minute respite!

Smurfswacker said...

Wonderful to see all this great material collected. Thanks for all your effort. Not only was Ditko's interior art first-class, so were his covers. Ditko's wild imagination combined with his sense of design created many memorable images.

By the way, the woman in the first "Verdict from the Grave" panel seems to have been drawn by someone else. Dick Giordano, perhaps?

Unknown said...

Hi Nick,

Nice article. The only Charlton series I read and collected back then was Ditko's Many Ghosts of Doctor Graves. Great memories of a collection long gone.

Unknown said...

My thinking is he didn't do many westerns because, much as I love
Ditko, that city boy never had much to do with animals. He seems
to get rid of the horses as quickly as possible in his westerns.
And when he was stuck with drawing animals (Black Fury) he went
with stylized versions of the horses. At least with Konga and
Gorgo he wasn't dealing with "real" animals.

Nick Caputo said...


Glad you enjoyed the post. Re: the woman in that first panel of "Verdict from the Grave", while the hair looks a little unusual the face looks like Ditko's work. Giordano was already gone from Charlton by this period, so if there was any touch-up work it was usually by editor Sal Gentile. I've seen some of his corrections on covers but I'm not sure if there was any changes here, maybe just Ditkoo attempting something different.


Thank you. Doctor Graves was a favorite series. My brother John began buying the Charlton mystery titles when they began showing up in my neighborhood sometime in 1971 when they were having a little better distribution. The Ditko covers and the material drew us in.


I don't know why Ditko didn't do many westerns, perhaps a lack of interest in settings and drawing horses was a reason, or maybe the material was less attractive. I suspect he could have drawn as many westerns as he wanted at Charlton if he asked to, so that might answer the question.

Barry Pearl said...

Another unbelievably detailed post. Can't wait for part two. And it makes me want to learn more about Joe Gill.

Nick Caputo said...

Thanks Barry. Part two should be up soon, although I haven't even begun scanning yet!

Russ said...

When I first saw this post I was afraid it might be too much for one sitting, but I was wrong. Sucked me right in, with all of those amazing visuals. Ditko was the only reason I gave Charlton a second look, and I remember having quite a few of these, but he was so prolific, there are stacks of this stuff I've never seen before. When I read that Ditko Package, it became obvious that this is a guy who loves to draw comics. Given the freedom to play around, Ditko delivered so much more than the script asked for and he did it again and again, and seemed to be having a great time at it.

Nick Caputo said...

Thank you, Russ. Quite a compliment. When I was putting the post together I was worrying about the exact same thing, which is why I decided to break it into two posts. I thought it would be an easier read in that format. Ditko clearly loved drawing comics, and it often comes through in the finished results.

I hope you'll find the next chapter equally interesting.

Lee Hartsfeld said...

Terrific post. I didn't know Captain Atom was Ditko's first superhero--somehow, I thought Spider-Man predated him. Live and learn. That's cool to know.

Interesting point about Ditko's way with war art--i.e., how his style is not ideally suited for same. Or for westerns. For horror, suspense, and science fiction, highly fanciful art works like a charm--for comparatively normal, down to earth subjects (war, police adventures, oaters), unbridled imagination can work against things. Simple common sense, but it hadn't occurred to me!

greenpear said...

I knew it was going to be a long and involved article and thought I would half tonight and save the rest for tomorrow morning. But with Ditko, and your handling of the material, that wasn't going to happen. I always leave your posts learning more than I had expected and that's the way I like feeling when I read a post on Ditko. He's been my muse since 1962.

Nick Caputo said...


THank you. I think Ditko could have succeeded in drawing police adventures, as many of his tales concern crime, but those types of comics were not offered much in the 1970s.


I very much appreciate your complimentary comments and an glad to know that the post wasn't too overwhelming. I hope I can continue to live up to such high expectations.

haydn said...

Enjoyed the article!

One little bit of minutiae to consider: is Bill Yoshida (credited in Jungle Jim #22) the same guy as "Mike Stevens," credited as letterer in a few Marvel issues from 1971? The calligraphy looks similar to me, and Mike Stevens sure sounds like a pseudonym (kinda like Gaspar Saladino's nom de plume L. P. Gregory, from his kids Lisa, Peter and Greg).

Wat the field that cutthroat in the day, that letterers could be fired for moonlighting?

Nick Caputo said...


I don't think they're the same letterer. Stevens might be a pseudonym or someone who was only in the field a short time (or worked at other companies). Letterers worked for different companies with no problems, I suspect. Charlotte Jetter, for instance, did a lot of lettering for Charlton in the 70s and was also a prolific contributor to Marvel in the same period.